Performance high, sales low for new oils

The new CJ-4 engine oils developed for heavy duty diesels meeting the 2007 emissions requirements are getting high marks for performance in early reports from fleets

TAMPA, FL. The new CJ-4 engine oils developed for heavy duty diesels meeting the 2007 emissions requirements are getting high marks for performance in early reports from fleets, but with few fleets actually running ’07 engines at this early date, sales for the more expensive CJ-4 oils are starting off slowly, according to oil company representatives at the Technical and Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting here this week.

Approximately 80% of all diesel oil sales at this point are still the older CI-4 Plus product, according to Reginald Dias, dir. of commercial products lubricants for ConocoPhillips. While ’07-spec engines must use the newer formulation, “there are very few of those engines out in the fleets at this point,” he said.

Even though the new CJ-4 is backwards-compatible with pre-’07 engines and can offer significant performance advantages in those engines, most fleets are sticking with the older versions until they need to make the switch, largely due to cost differences, Dias said. All four ConocoPhillips brands – 76, Conoco, Phillips and Kendall – are offered in both formulations and will continue offering the older CI-4 Plus for as long as it remains an economically viable product. Despite the slow sales start, the CJ-4 oils represent “a quantum change” over the CI-4 and is “a much superior technology,” Dias said.

In field tests comparing the two oils, Shell Global Solutions has documented significant performance improvements for CJ-4 oils, according to Dan Arcy, OEM technical manager. Iron traces in the oils, for example were 33% lower for CJ-4, indicating lower wear rates for the new oil, he explained.

Similar results showed up in oil analysis for lead, which is considered a prime indicator for extending drain intervals. And despite some early concerns by fleets that the lower TBN (total base number) required by CJ-4 specs would lead to faster depletion of the corrosion-protecting additive and shorter drain intervals, Shell’s field tests show that the depletion rate “is minimal,” Darcy said.

“The initial worries of customers [about CJ-4 performance] are not panning out in our field experience,” Darcy said. Based on those test results, “I believe CJ-4 makes sense for pre-07 engines, too, especially if extending vehicle life is important to a fleet,” he said. Still, “the switch-over rate (to CJ-4) is much slower than we’ve had in the past when we introduced a new oil,” Darcy said. “Our sense is that fleets are waiting until they get ’07 engines in numbers and have to make the switch.”

Fleets that have committed to buying new engines in 2007 have made the change to the new Castrol CJ-4 products, but the majority have not made that commitment and are sticking with the CI-4 Plus oils, according to Page Gray, U.S. transport marketing manager for BP Lubricants USA. “About 20 to 30% have switched to CJ-4, which is pretty much what we expected,” he said

Planning for the slow transition, BP kept the full line of Castrol CI-4 oils in its product lineup, while taking the CI-4 opportunity to reformulate for extended drain intervals. For fleets making the move, “we’re looking to extend drains by as much as double on both pre- and post-07 engines,” Gray said.

The 20% number on initial CI-4 volumes seen by the other lubricant suppliers “is right in line with our sales and our projections,” according to John Shepard, Chevron’s commercial on-highway marketing specialist for North America. While “relatively weak demand for ’07 engines” is reason for the slow transition, “some fleets are making the full conversion because they see the benefits from CI-4 in terms of performance and lower wear,” Shepard said.

In Chevron and fleet field tests, he added, “we’ve seen outstanding wear control.” For the majority that haven’t made the switch, however, “it’s a question of cost and simply not having new engines in their fleets” that require the newest oil classification, he said.

Mark Betner, Citgo’s manager of heavy-duty products said that fleets running both pre- and post-’07 engines are trending toward adopting one oil – CJ-4—to forestall product misapplication and to gain better protection for their older engines. “Really, the industry heard loud and clear that fleets wanted to be able to rely on one oil and the new [API] category has delivered that.” He noted fleets with no ’07 engines are predictably sticking with CI-4 Plus oils for now.

Betner added that producing the last two API oil categories (CI-4 and CJ-4) had been “exhausting” for oil suppliers and noted that, in both cases, “there were lots of post-release adjustments” required by engine makers (such as those that resulted in the CJ-4 Plus designation). Looking out to the oil that may be required for 2010 engines, he said at this juncture it seems “this one may not be as difficult as we thought it would be. CJ-4 [as a platform] may be more usable than we thought; that is, the chemistry may not need as much adjustment” to make it applicable to 2010 engines.

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